Top Palestinian official: Trump committed to two states

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A senior Palestinian official expressed newfound optimism in the Trump administration Monday, saying he was encouraged by early signs that the new U.S. president was strongly committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Jibril Rajoub told foreign reporters that President Donald Trump made clear to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a recent phone call that he was his “strategic partner” in making a “real and serious” peace between Israelis and Palestinians. After initially shunning the Palestinian leader following his surprise election, Trump called Abbas 10 days ago to invite him for a meeting at the White House. His Middle East envoy then met with Abbas in his first visit to the region.

“There is very, very positive progress,” Rajoub said. “This was a clear-cut message that the Palestinian issue is still a key for regional stability and security and Abu Mazen (Abbas) and his political regime is the partner.”

Rajoub insisted that the Trump administration was in a “stage of exploration” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The latest development appeared to assuage some Palestinian fears about Trump, and about being isolated in the region as Israel appears to be growing closer to some Arab nations.

Trump campaigned on promises to depart from decades of American policy in the region and signaled a much closer relationship with Israel than former President Barack Obama.

His platform made no mention of Palestinian statehood, a key goal of the U.S. and international community for two decades. He promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to disputed Jerusalem, a move favored by Israel and bitterly opposed by the Palestinians, and he signaled much greater tolerance for Israeli West Bank settlement construction.

But since taking office, Trump appears to have backpedaled. He seems to be in no rush to move the embassy, and during a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, he urged restraint on Israeli settlement construction. He also has left the door open to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

Last week’s visit of Trump’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt, looked to be aimed largely at listening to both sides.

Rajoub, a former West Bank security chief, said Trump’s “America First” slogan also indicated that he would be less prone to supporting Israel by default. “I have to understand that it means he is not in the pocket,” he said.

Rajoub, who heads the Palestinian Football Association and Olympic Committee, was a top vote getter at last year’s leadership election for the ruling Fatah party, placing him as a potential heir to Abbas. He said he still favored peace with Israel, but wished to mobilize the world into delegitimizing its occupation, which he called a “malignant cancer,” and said all Palestinian attacks were a result of it.

“Who is pushing us to the violence?” he asked.

He also had harsh words for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Mr. Netanyahu and the extremists are trying to spoil the environment,” he said. “Mr. Netanyahu till now is not a potential partner to the two-state solution. Mr. Netanyahu’s policies, activities, are potential partners to the expansionists and messianic groups.”